Not a police state, not yet. Surveillance state is a good term.
I agree with Yale law professor Jack Balkin -- we live today in a national surveillance state. This article in the Washington Post detailing the FBI's use of "national security letters" (NSLs) tells an important part of that story. According to the Post:...
....For reasons of convenience, expediency, secrecy and efficiency, federal law enforcement has increasingly turned towards surveillance and investigative methods which do not require ex ante review or approval by an Article III court...
...If you still think you've got a reasonable expectation of privacy in your daily life -- check again. The exceptions very nearly swallow the rule today.
Is this a problem? Depends on your perspective. What worries me here is the slow bureaucratic expansion of power -- like the ever-expanding Blob of movie fame. The FBI and intelligence community may need administrative tools like this. Ultimately, we may decide it's in our interest to allow law enforcement the use of these tools -- whether for targeting suspected terrorists, drug dealers, organized crime figures, or even Client No. 9. But that's got to be a public debate, and it's got to be a debate held by accountable officials, not agency officials behind closed doors. We have a stake in this policy, and we should get a say.
It's been a long transition. I think technologic progression alone would have brought us to this point by 2013 even if 9/11 had not occurred, but terrorism accelerated the timetable.
To think it was only a few years ago that pundits scoffed at claims of widespread domestic surveillance. Nobody's scoffing now.
Will Americans actually demand a public debate? I doubt it. We're a future shocked culture -- dazed, numb and pithed; hit by too much too fast. We're going to live with this.
We're all Singaporeans now.